Monday, August 1, 2011

Exploring the East Side of Paso Robles

I haven’t been wine tasting in Paso Robles since July 2009 when I visited during the Independence Day holiday weekend. So, I was excited to return to this region which I think is the best for producing Rhone varietals in California. The last time I toured this region I visited wineries on the west side of Highway 101 off of westbound 46 so this time I decided to visit a couple on the east side on eastbound 46. [1]

One of the major challenges of tasting so many wines is the problem of palate fatigue in which is when it seems like your palate gets tired or overwhelmed so that you cannot taste a new pour of wine with a fresh tongue. The result is that they begin to all taste alike. Some say that the problem is in your brain, not your tongue and so the solution is to take a break, walk around, and let your mind rest for a few minutes.

But I find this is not the case. In fact, in my experience the bigger the wine (especially Portuguese varietals and Petite Sirah) the more prone I am towards fatigue and drinking water or neutral crackers can help. But, I was recently introduced to a product called SanTásti that works absolute wonders. A bottle of this really came in handy when I tasted a large number of wines at Eberle Winery and Vina Robles.

 So, if you are going to taste a large number of wines, or a series of really big wines, I HIGHLY recommend checking out this beverage which you can find at their web site:

And in case you are wondering, I am not being paid to advertise for them!

Eberle Winery and Wine Caves

I usually research and plan ahead of time what wineries I intend to visit but this time I decided to just cruise around the east side of Paso Robles and stop at two that caught my eye. My first stop was at Eberle Winery which has wine caves that you can tour. If you have never been in a wine cave, they’re a “must see” and one of the oldest and most historic is at Beringer Vineyards in the Napa Valley. So, I stopped in, walked around taking some pictures and then ventured into the tasting room where after sampling their wines and took a guided tour of their impressive wine caves. Eberle Winery has two tasting flights, a complimentary list of five wines or the Reserve tasting list for $10 returned with a purchase. As always, I chose the Reserve wines.

My first wine was the 2006 Latin Quarter a blend of two Portuguese varietals (27% Tinta Madeira, 27% Touriga), as well as a southern France grape (23% Petit Sirah, also known as Durif), and an Italian varietal 23% Sangiovese. This is a dark and rich wine with really soft tannins and blackberries and cassis dominating the fruit profile. It sells for $35.

My second wine was the 2006 Hodgepodge, which as its name indicates is a “unique” blend of grapes including 28% Sangiovese, 23% Zinfandel, 22% Touriga, 14% Petit Verdot, 13% Cabernet Sauvignon. On the nose I picked up violets, dried plums, black cherry, and vanilla on the finish. This wine is very dry on the palate and sells for $35.

My third wine was the 2007 “Love and Kisses” Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. On the nose and palate I picked up black currants, black cherries and dark chocolate. It is an okay wine, but it lacks pizzazz and doesn’t merit the $125 price tag.

My fourth pour was the 2007 Eberle Reserve Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. In contrast to the previous Cab, this one is very bright and fresh with layers of cassis, milk chocolate and vanilla with a very long finish. Although it is a $50 less than the previous wine I preferred it and yet again I don’t think it merits the price tag of $75.

My final tasting was the 2007 Eberle Port. A traditional blend of Tinta Madeira, Touriga, Tinta Roriz (also known as Tempranillo) which is my preferred blend for a port style wine. This wine has concentrated dried fruits, is somewhat viscous but is not goopy and it has a long cherry cough drop finish and could probably use a few more years of aging. It’s a nice wine but at $60 it is WAY over priced as I know of MANY in the $30 - $35 range that are far superior. In fact, I was recently tasting ports in Madera California at Ficklin and Birdstone wineries that would beat this one hands down in a blind taste test which you can read about:

Overall, I would say the wines at Eberle are okay and their Portuguese varietal blends are a unique experience that you should try to expand your palate. But, in this economy I can’t see anyone paying their prices.

To visit or for more information you can contact them at:

Eberle Winery
3810 Highway 46 East
Paso Robles, CA 93446

Vina Robles

My next stop was just on the other side of the highway at Vina Robles, which is owned by a pair of Swiss businessmen, Hans Nef and Hans Michel (pronounced Mikel). The winemaker is Nicholas “Nick” de Luca who has worked at Cline, Star Lane and Dierberg Vineyards and in 2008 was one of SF Chronicle’s “Winemakers to watch.”[2]

Vina Robles has two flights and as always I chose the Estate Tasting but the server was quite generous and allowed me to taste not only wines from both lists but also some that were not even on either lists.

My first wine was 2010 Viognier from the Huerbuero Vineyard. Aged sur lie in 3 year old French oak barrels, this wine has a big floral nose, a beautiful bouquet of honeysuckle followed by butterscotch and citrus followed by orange peel. On the palate the nose is confirmed with great acidity and yet also a full mouth feel creaminess – a great wine for $19! (I brought one home)

My first red wine 2008 “Red 4” (62% Syrah, 34% Petit Verdot, 2% Grenache, 2% Mouvedre), which is also from the Huerbuero Vineyard and is aged in 16 months in neutral French oak. This is has the freshness and fruit forwardness of a new world wine and yet also some interesting characteristics of old world style. On the nose it has blackberry, raspberry and some spicy and floral notes but it also has a “sweaty” fresh leather and herbal character and something that kind of reminds me of a rye cracker on the finish. It has good structure, soft tannins and great acidity. The alcohol is a little high at 14.8% and yet it is extremely well balanced as it has no heat. A really nice wine for $16.

My second red wine was the 2007 Halter Ranch Meritage (68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Petit Verdot) aged 16 months in French Oak (60% new). The grapes come from Halter Ranch Winery, which I visited the last time I was in Paso Robles, and it is Swiss owned by Hansjörg Wyss who ranks #164 on the Forbes list of billionaires, with a net worth of approximately $6 billion, making him the second richest person in Switzerland. This wine has a huge hedonistic attack on the front end of cassis, blueberry, violets, cocoa and vanilla. The nose is confirmed on the palate along with soft tannins, great structure and a full mouth feel. Again, the alcohol is at 14.8% and yet it is well balanced without any heat. A really nice wine for $36!

My third red wine was the 2008 Halter Ranch Meritage which was not on the menu. It is a completely different blend than the ’07 with 95% Petit Verdot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. This wine has a HUGE floral nose of violets that goes on for days followed by dried raspberries, red currants, cloves, anise and on the palate it has supple tannins, a full mouth feel and a lingering milk chocolate on the return. The alcohol is at 15.5% and yet AGAIN it is well balanced without any heat. This wine sells for $36 a bottle.

My fourth red wine sample was the 2007 Signature (66% Petit Verdot, 34% Petite Sirah) which is aged 16 months in French oak. Part of the cuvee collection, this wine is similar in profile to the ‘08 Halter Ranch Meritage but not as powerful on the nose and palate. It has 14.8% alcohol in comparison to the 15.5% and a lower percentage of Petit Verdot which may account for the difference.

My fifth red wine was my favorite, the 2007 Suendrero (86% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Petit Verdot) aged 16 months in French oak (85% new). This wine is also part of the of the cuvee collection, and on the nose I picked up cassis, blackberries, sweet tobacco and on the palate it has a full mouth feel, mouth drying tannins and a long finish with French roast coffee on the return. An awesome wine, but a bit steep at $49 yet I brought one home to lay down for a few years.

After tasting these wines I then did 3-Way (A, B, C) side by side comparisons of three Petite Sirah tasting and this is when a bottle of SanTásti really came in handy. But tasting such big intense and concentrated wines also requires a lot of concentration to be able to recognize subtle differences in the wines as well:

(A) The 2008 Jardine (pronounced “har-deen”) Vineyard Petite Sirah, is 100% Petite Sirah, aged 16 months 45% in new French oak. This wine is sweet on the nose and has more of a jammy profile than (B) and (C). Loads of black fruit and silky tannins, probably the “best buy” of the three at sells for $26 a bottle.

(B) The 2007 Penman Springs Vineyard Petite Sirah is aged 16 months in French Oak (40% new) and is more herbal on the nose than (A) or (C), it is a bigger wine than (A) with more tannin and a nice mineral finish. But the price difference is significant as it sells for $42 a bottle.

(C) The 2007 “Fore” Petite Sirah is named after their 12 year old Jardine Vineyard, where golf balls are often found from the nearby golf course. This wine has intense, ripe blackberries, black currant and plums with notes of black pepper and bacon and chocolate on the return. This was my favorite in the lineup and sells for $49 a bottle.

Over all, all three were of superb quality but if I was in need of adding a Petite Sirah to my library, I would have bought (A) - the 2008 Jardine Vineyard Petite Sirah – for its high quality and value.

The last two were Syrah and Syrah/ Petite Sirah blends:

The 2007 Syrée (pronounced “se-rey) is 79% Syrah and 21% Petite Sirah. A rich and lush fruit driven and meaty wine with earthy characteristics and spice on the finish. Like many in the lineup, it has high alcohol at 15.6% and yet maintains its balance without any heat. It sells for $39 a bottle.

My final wine was the 2007 Ryan Road Syrah. This wine is 100% Syrah aged 16 months in new French barrels, it exudes dark cherries on the nose and has aggressive tannin on the palate with a dark chocolate finish. Of all the wines that had a 14+ percentage of alcohol, this one at 15.6% was the only one that displayed any heat on the palate. It sells for $42 a bottle.

To visit or for more information you can contact them at:

Vina Robles Hospitality Center
3700 Mill Road
Paso Robles, CA 93446
Telephone: 1-805-227-4812